Posting in Energy
The old joke with fusion is that it's the energy of the future--and it always will be. But one industry executive says even if it takes another 50 years, it will still be worth the investment for clean, safe, cheap, domestically-sourced power.
The old joke with fusion is that it’s the energy of the future--and it always will be. But one technology research and development company executive says even if it takes another 50 years, it will still be worth the investment for clean, safe, cheap, domestically-sourced power.
Below, F. Douglas Witherspoon, president and chief scientist of HyperV Technologies Corp., answers some questions about fusion research: where it stands, where it’s headed and why it’s taking so long.
Nuclear fusion has been researched since the 1950s. Why is it taking so long to turn it into a viable energy source?
We're essentially trying—in the lab--to make the equivalent of a tiny star that we can control long enough to get useful energy out of it. That’s an incredibly difficult thing to do.
When research began on controlled thermonuclear fusion back in the ‘50s, the scientists had just come off successfully making the hydrogen bomb in a relatively short period of time, so it was pretty clear that it was possible. Everyone was excited that [fusion] could be accomplished in the same kind of time frame. But they did not realize the true difficulty of the task and ended up having to develop a whole new scientific discipline to learn about plasmas--the stuff stars are made of. It turns out that plasma is finicky and doesn't like to be confined for very long. As a result, scientists have spent the last five decades conducting basic research to map out the science needed to make nuclear fusion a viable source of energy.
What are the different approaches to controlled nuclear fusion?
There are really only two generic approaches right now to making a fusion reactor:
Magnetic Confinement: The mainline approach uses magnetic fields to form a non-material “bottle” to contain the plasma in a steady state. A tokamak reactor such as the ITER experiment now under construction in France is the leading example of this type of reactor.
Inertial Confinement: An imploding shell of dense plasma is used to crush and ignite a fuel target to trigger a fusion reaction. The best example is laser fusion now being tested at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California.
What’s the next big goal for fusion research, and when might it be achieved?
The next really big milestone is to demonstrate what is termed “net gain,” which means getting more energy out of the reaction than what is put in. The laser fusion effort at the National Ignition Facility appears to be very close to achieving this with their big new laser that came online recently. They might actually demonstrate ignition, as they call it, within the next year. That will be exciting.
What evidence do we have that nuclear fusion might work?
Go stand outside on a sunny day and feel the heat from a nuclear fusion reactor that is about 93 million miles away. The sun is using its tremendous mass--or gravitational confinement--to drive the nuclear fusion reactions in its core. Obviously we need to accomplish the same thing but on a smaller scale. Both the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor experiment at Princeton and the JET experiment in the U.K. demonstrated multi-megawatts of fusion power output several years ago. Some laser fusion experiments have also produced some fusion energy output. These experiments haven't achieved net gain yet, but they are getting much closer.
What are the potential benefits of nuclear fusion as a sustainable source of energy?
Nuclear fusion has a number of advantages:
- It has zero emissions;
- It doesn’t require importing fuel (you get it from seawater);
- It’s safe. There’s no chance of a meltdown, and there’s no high-level radioactive waste generated;
- It has a tremendous fuel energy density:
- Four drums of fuel equals roughly a 21,000-boxcar train of coal;
- Its powerplant footprint is small;
- It enables a robust power grid--plants can be located in and around consumers;
- Its power can be produced either on demand or 24/7;
- It creates domestic high tech jobs;
- Its reactor technology is suitable for export.
What type of nuclear fusion approach is HyperV researching?
HyperV is part of a larger research community developing the Plasma Jet Magneto Inertial Fusion (PJMIF) concept, which is kind of a hybrid approach between inertial confinement and magnetic confinement. Instead of using lasers to drive the implosion on a fuel target, the PJMIF approach uses high-performance plasma guns to produce a spherically imploding plasma shell that crushes a magnetized plasma fuel target at the center of the reactor. The shock waves produced by the implosion create--for a tiny fraction of a second--the pressures and temperatures required to achieve fusion ignition. The embedded magnetic field in the target plasma aids in confining the energy just long enough to keep it hot and fusing, and it substantially reduces the energy required in the plasma jets.
What’s a rough estimate as to how long it will take to develop a commercially viable fusion reactor?
If experiments over the next four or five years are successful, then we would need perhaps 15 years to develop a PJMIF-type reactor that can demonstrate net gain, and probably another five to 10 years to develop a reactor suitable for commercial power generation. This assumes steady and increasingly aggressive research and development funding.
We have wind and solar energy now. Why take so much time and money to develop fusion?
Because clean, plentiful energy for everybody is going to completely transform the world. Even if it took another 50 years, it would clearly still be worth it. Using energy more efficiently, along with the further development of wind and solar technologies are a great start. But they don't provide a complete solution and almost certainly not for baseload energy needs. You could think of today's cleantech technologies as the first wave of a multi-decade effort to provide the world with clean energy. Nuclear fusion is arguably the second wave of that effort. It has not only the potential to be clean, but also the capacity to support a thriving and sustainable human civilization pretty much indefinitely.
Jun 20, 2010
Nuclear fusion is not resumed to deuterium-tritium reactions only. There are other alternatives more economically affordable. http://www.crossfirefusion.com/nuclear-fusion-reactor/overview.html
@EEMAN I've gotta thank you for saving me about half the trouble of having to rant about people's perceptions of fission. I remember doing a paper about 10 years ago on exactly this topic. The safety and containment considerations at Chernobyl were, well, Soviet quality. In other words, without the slightest regard for human life or anything else. That scenario would not have happened in any other country's plants. The worst thing to come from Three Mile Island was its timing. The sheer coincidence of it happening 12 days after The China Syndrome came out sparked a runaway reaction of ignorance that's had a Chernobyl-scale poisoning of our energy policy. And let's not forget that France loves nuclear fission to the tune of using it produce 76% of its power. It also has the cheapest energy production in Europe and supposedly the cleanest air, too. Even if you don't feel like giving credit to France for anything else, their nuclear model is the best in the world. The problem with the waste is that rather than being stored in ultra-tough containers in ultra-secure locations capable of containing it for thousands of years, it's being stored in containment pools and dry containers on site that are rapidly reaching capacity. No one wants a nuclear dump hundreds of miles away from them in the middle of the desert; they'd prefer hundreds of radioactive pools of water feeding hundreds of overflowing buildings in hundreds of less secure sites all over the country. Wonderful logic. And yes, energy density really is the name of game. For transportation purposes, liquid hydrocarbons have the highest energy density of anything that's still in a form that can be easily handled. Yes, that is the reason we continue to use gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc: they have enough energy to move your 4000-pound car over 30 miles, yet they're liquids that even Joe Schmo can handle at a gas pump. In terms of mass power generation, uranium for fission has the highest energy density of anything by a long distance. Deuterium/tritium, however, blows uranium out of the water. Of course, nothing is a free lunch, so it shouldn't be a surprise that there's more complexity and difficulty on the front end of producing something that has such incredible potential. If the current attitude of wanting a free lunch of hydrogen cars--but with hydrogen derived from non-organic sources and also not produced from those icky fission plants--continues, I hope they hurry it up with the lasers and tokamoks. Nothing is free for long.
but in some of the simplest most successful experiments, which look to me like the ones sited here; the containment vessel for the reactions was soon rendered so brittle by neutron radiation, that they had to be disposed of. Can you imagine what metal glowing with neutron energy would be like? I've not looked up the half life of this, but it is a serious thing to contend with, none the less. Why not look at "near fusion"? This is what I call burning fuel at tremendous temperatures that does not make more energy than it consumes, but makes very efficient use of the energy we have. I read in Scientific American about the Japanese developing a super-heated method of burning refuse that was so hot, it ended up a good source of energy generation. I don't recall the temperatures, but they were very high indeed. I also read about a researcher that perfected a plasma spark plug for ICE systems. This plug probably works a lot like a plasma torch and introduces such a super heated vortex into the combustion chamber that most, if not all the fuel is burned. This should result in considerable reduction of carbon and other pollution, that would end a lot of the problems with ICE propulsion system in the first place. I still doubt it will beat fuel cells, but it will be economical and go a long way into the future, until we can solve the other problems. There is already a company online claiming to use this system, Plasmatronics.. However, I would be sure there is a patent on this, and I wonder who the legitimate company is that will bring this to market?
A high energy guy like Witherspoon might well turn his thoughts to low energy reactions. Low Energy Nuclear Reaction research is providing important clues to a bountiful energy source. Early on, in 1989 a thoughtless review by the DOE and resistance from those whose reputations were committed to high energy fusion research shelved research which is just now beginning to show promise.
EEMAN, I would never have used overlords, but that is the proper title for them. Just like how our current ones, the Arab's have been sucking up our overwieghtness in money. The only thing is now America is becoming anorexic and our overwieght in money is quickly vanishing and could end our jubilant life as the Earths leadership since WW II. And currently our leader wants us to start dumpster diving for renewable energy. Switching energy sources is not easy or fast or even cheap. Even Fusion will not be quick, it may be easier than waiting for the daily sun rise. But it will be like replacing the batteries we get our power from. Fusion is like the Energizer Bunny and the Renewable energy is like taking a battery from a battery powered clock that has been going years on it's one and only battery. But what is the energy holding and providing density of Renewable supply's. Solar is like a bic lighter, Geo-thermal is like a rubber band, crops is like morning snow storm, water is like a bowling ball made of piezo crystals.
A lot of nutty and/or ignorant posts to be sure, but DXMage deserves an honest answer to an honest question. The least powerful nuclear weapon that is known to have been deployed was the projectile fired from the Davy Crockett recoilless gun. It had a yield of as little as 0.01 kilotons, meaning the equivalent of 10 tons of TNT. The design is still secret, of course, but it was probably a purely fission weapon, meaning there was no hydrogen used, only plutonium. All thermonuclear weapons - "H-bombs" - rely on a fission explosion to compress deuterium & tritium so that they will fuse. There was some point where 1 would rather build a relatively complex thermonuclear weapon than just use more plutonium to get more yield. It follows, then, that if 1 uses a thermonuclear explosion as an energy source you get all the highly radioactive byproducts of plutonium fission. More importantly, everything the fireball touches becomes radioactive. Back in the '60s, someone floated the idea of using small nuclear explosions to propel spacecraft. The thinking was that radioactivity would not be an issue far enough away from the Earth. "I'm wondering about this idea. What is the smallest H-bomb that can be made? And would it be possible to harness the energy from its detonation? Wouldn't it be far cheaper and practical to have a HUGE containment reactor (the size of several stadium) that could some how contain the explosion that happens in billions of gallons of water like a HUGE pool so to speak, the steam then rushing out through huge vents powering huge turbines. Perfect? No. Cheaper, easier maybe even more of a possibility than trying to contain plasma. Instead shouldn't we at least harness it in some way now and continue to work on the more elegant yet very difficult task of containing it? Consider the billions if not trillions spent in today's dollars vs the cost of building such a place?"
For those that still think Fusion is a wasted effort, and some are saying just burn the hydrogen gas. It is just a matter of the density of the enegy source. And then the space wasted by the combusted result. Hydrogen may be cleaner in producing energy but what volume do you need to provide the same enegy that is produced. We are talking the volume of hydrogen gas that would fill a 100,000 seat football stadium and have that power produced in one second of time compared to a pico-gram of Helium 3 fused production in three laser blasts on 3 pellets. That's 3 pico grams compared to mega tons of gas and container to hold the gas for combustion. As for efficiency, look at the Wright Brothers, there first flight with a 6-7 hp lawnmower engine at 27 mph in 1903, compared to the record setting flight at the beginning of June 2010of a Scramjet X-plane of Mach 8.2 (do not know the MPH because I do not know the altitude of the flight to compute the atmosphere density that gives you a variable Mach rating. That around 3 times as great as the SR-71 Blackbird and at least twice as fast as the X-15 space rocket/plane. When that reaches commercial aviation you can go from Paris to Tokyo while flying over the United States in just a couple of hours. It's all in the efficiency, Just like the Global Warming problem, beside being a redistribution of wealth tool, it was and Efficiency/Waste problem as I proclaimed it in 1994. What do you think Fusion is compared to burning hydrogen as a gas in a combustion process. It may be easy but far from efficient.
The reason we need to keep aiming fusion is it's exponential density of power as a source. Why do you think gasoline has made America the Top ruler of Earth since WW II. It is the density of the power source that makes leaders, And with out electrical power we would be returning to the jungle to swing in the trees. If you watched Sci-Tech last night on Discovery Science channel on the show titled "Mining the Moon" a city like Dallas needs 10 super tankers of fuel to run for a year, but with fusion all you need is 771 pounds of Helium 3, it has collected on the moon for 4 billion years. And it will be pollution free. And for those that say it's impossible let use renewable sources, Renewable sources of energy as our only supply of energy would return us to the Society era of Ozzy & Harriette and Happy Days. A simple question that would mean there would only be energy for some 2.5 billion to 3 billion living on this Blue rock in Space. And you would not have the spare energy for a remote for your TV. Let alone that would mean getting off you tush and changing channels with the buttons on your TV. There may still be cable and Satellite TV but it will cost you around $10 an hour to use your TV. That in return will make you need have a higher IQ to get a higher paying job to afford your lugubrious life. And you could be paying $25 an hour for your children to have their cell phone. And today the IQ level is declining, I just missed a MENSA entry exam in the 80's by one point, this test at that time was 140 points and today more than 25 years later it is nearing 132. I did not learn modern math but to me that is a decline, but with modern math (aka Politically Correct Education) they would and do call that an improvement. And with our what tthe PC crowd claim is one of our smartest leaders ever, and his death of the Constellation Program at NASA where does all that free fusion fuel go. The only ones aiming for the Moon today is China. So as we use up our Middle East fuel, who is going to replace the Middle east powers. May I say Communist Red China. As where if America where to be there instead, the world would have a more fairly balanced and level playing field to get almost free energy from. Although our current source of Energy may be messy and dirty. The packed energy power of fusion is like 8414 times the density and the worst polluting part it has to offer is the paper the energy bills come on, that is if we are still using paper billing in the future. Until we can figure out the Rubics cube that the power of Fusion is locked behind we do have a dwindling supply of Dead Dinosaurs and once living things, that can be sup lamented by these renewable energy sources. I mean assisted with not replaced with, and if it takes time and Oil dries up there is one source we can use with a similar power density as Oil, and this is called Lithium Hydrate, do not know how it got that name since it is mostly pressure compress freeze dried Methane. It's flaws are it should not be a freely release combustion product like gas is today because it has similar Ozone effects a Freon gas. But the nice fact is it can be recycled if you replace the energy it expelled in it's combustion process. And at 1999 energy use levels just in the Gulf of Mexico at depths as deep or deeper as the Oil well polluting the waters today there is 200 to 300 years of fuel to be collected from the ocean floor. The Sea of India may have 500 years of fuel to power Asia. Then as we venture into Space and we need to as the population grows, Fusion will be the answer their also. It sure beets big tanks of Hydrogen and Oxygen (as fuel combustion reactant and Air to breath) Just like some 15,000 to 25,000 years ago as Cave men taped agriculture to evolve humanity from the cave to cities. If humanity is not to become extinct like 99% of all life on Earth has we need to create Fusion as a power supply. All the NO says have you ever looked at human survival beyond next year or decade. I'm looking at our survival for Centuries if not forever. We have the brains to never look at extinction, its just if we do not let the doubters draining our dreams so they can be happy for their short lives as a single person. Humanity needs Fusion to prevent our extinction and let us live forever. P.S. If you think Fusion is a waste, can we open your skull and see if there is more than one brain cell in there (that's a working one).
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Ok a fusion reactor is 'fairly safe' - it can't meltdown like a fusion reactor .. [3 mile island 'just got lucky', chernobyl didn't] But .. until fusion works - we don't know the side effects .. hydrogen to helium is fine if it stops there .. but nothing actually stops it producing some radioactive stuff like Carbon14 ... does it? .. or even heavier nasties .. though it stops when it reaches Iron .. I prefer (my) fusion reactor to be 93 million miles away - and harness the power with Photo-Voltaics -- Can we have at least a 100 times more Research (and especially Development) dollars spent at capturing this ? Agree it won't help the Mars colonisation idea very much... but then does Mars have enough Hydrogen (from sea water) to fuel fusion reactors ?
I constantly see comments about how 'unclean' fission is and have to take issue. Yes there are byproducts and yes sometimes those byproducts have a half-life of 30 years (5 half-life's is what it takes for something to decay away to essentially gone). What half-life does oil suddenly vanish? This crap has been around for million of years and now its gushing out into the gulf of mexico causing a wake of filth THOUSANDS of times worse than what nuclear fission causes. Assuming a 'filth' scale of 1-100 where coal is in the 90's, oil is in the 70's and natural gas is in the 60's; instead of saying 'Lets add fission to our portfolio because we can turn many of these 80/90's into 30's,' we instead declare it dirty and stick to coal. Thats akin to being a raging alcoholic and saying 'if i cant quit cold turkey i wont quit at all'. Whats wrong with aspiring to reach the 30's everywhere until we can crack that nut on the 5's. To those that want to use Chernobyl as some example: This was a breeder reactor design to make plutonium and the damn engineering design had a positive reactivity coefficient (positive feedback loop). this is absolutely nothing like the designs used in pressurized water reactors. How many deaths occurred in three-mile-island's accident? ZERO unless you count that old woman's cat. This is an accident where if every human error could have gone wrong it did, and still the effects where much less than what some would have you believe. How many coal mining deaths occur every year? Somewhere around 3000. In the past 50 years we could have saved 150,000 lives and allowed their children to know their parents. I dont get it with the uneducated sheep of our times; Jane Fonda makes a movie in the 70s (we know what a scientific genius that whore is) and suddenly you think its based on something besides propaganda? The only thing Jane Fonda was ever good and was sleeping with the directors to get parts she was under qualified to perform in the first place. to those that think wind/solar is all we need, thats a very short-sighted approach to our human existence. I have always been a strong believer in the 'don't put your eggs in one basket'. Right now our entire species is sitting in one big gigantic green and blue basket. All life has been wiped out on this planet from asteroid strike at least once if not twice before. It happened before, it WILL happen again. Solar power might work for us here, but point source radiation energy is an inverse-square math equation. If we need to grow beyond the constraints of mother earth and finally get off this rock, we need to be able to pack a power source with us. The energy budget of solar on a planet like mars is maybe 10% what it is here.. Wind? no, while the winds do get up to 200mph there its not the speed but the mass of the molecules that drives wind turbines. With nearly no air mass that 200mph might as well be 5mph for all the good it will do you.
You could safely fuel a fusion reactor with all the hot air and baloney being spewed just in these comments
Thank you for this article. Very well done targeted brief on the topic! I know your intent was not to mire down in all the difficulties of fusion. And though it might seem pretty hypothetical to consider practical issues regarding power production plants when we are still in such early stages of research I feel compelled to call attention to one important issue -- neutrons. Lots of them. All of them energetic. While hydrogen based fusion IS relatively clean with very manageable byproducts, it also produces very high energy neutrons. Anything that we use to stop those neutrons will necessarily become radioactive. Even after just one firing, a Tokamak reactor is not something you would want to walk into after it has been shut down. The magnetic field that keeps the plasma away from the walls of the vessel is useless at containing the high energy neutrons emanating from the fusion reaction, so they necessarily slam into the surrounding material at energies that convert the nuclei of the containing material into radioactive isotopes. While this should not be considered an insurmountable problem, there will be tons of radioactive waste to deal with as the containing vessels reach the end of their lives (neutron bombardment like that weakens materials.) If managed properly, it will probably be much better than the waste stream created by fission. On the day we go live with the first plant (and I hope we do as soon as possible), we will have a complex rich energy source... but not a panacea.
I'm wondering about this idea. What is the smallest H-bomb that can be made? And would it be possible to harness the energy from its detonation? Wouldn't it be far cheaper and practical to have a HUGE containment reactor (the size of several stadium) that could some how contain the explosion that happens in billions of gallons of water like a HUGE pool so to speak, the steam then rushing out through huge vents powering huge turbines. Perfect? No. Cheaper, easier maybe even more of a possibility than trying to contain plasma. Instead shouldn't we at least harness it in some way now and continue to work on the more elegant yet very difficult task of containing it? Consider the billions if not trillions spent in today's dollars vs the cost of building such a place?
@psoucheray, the water resources being reduced on the planet are fresh water. Fusion would require extracting only the deuterium from seawater, which is a miniscule fraction of the hydrogen in all the water on earth. A successful fusion reaction produces huge amounts of energy from a small amount of fuel. While the sea is arguably becoming increasingly polluted, with the earth's surface being 70% water, we are not in danger of running out of seawater any time soon. Compare that to our current use of ethanol fuel, which diverts corn from the food supply to create energy, and this is at a net loss, since it takes a substantial amount of energy to cultivate the corn and convert it into ethanol.
Thanks to AlexKAngelopoulos for the insight on the H and its possible sources. My bad on that whole fission/fusion thing.
responding to psoucheray@: That's a reasonable question (by the way, this is _fusion_ not fission). The actual fuel used is hydrogen; water isn't the only place to find it on earth, it's just a convenient source. Since hydrogen is the most common element in the universe (75% by mass), it's not a rare resource. In any case, even if we did use only water, the volume of water available in the oceans contains enough hydrogen to run civilization at current power consumption levels for over a billion years. If and when fusion becomes a reasonable technology, water won't be the problem (in fact, paradoxically, the increased energy availability will tend to reduce costs of environmental remediation). The real problem ultimately will be waste heat disposal, I would guess. You could run a city's fusion plant on the water condensing out of a household air conditioner, which comes pretty close to being "free". And with incredibly cheap energy, costs go down, people use it more, and more....
I was delighted to see this article as I was wondering where we were in pursuit of this "holy grail." It will certainly be exciting as the big breakthroughs come - and I don't doubt that they will (unless the crazies set civilization back).
In all the comments I don't see anyone noting that water is also a finite resource. New water doesn't "get produced." We already have some segments of society crying foul on the damage we're doing that is reducing water resources on the planet. If we ever do get to a point of making fission possible, what will tapping into the fixed water supply do? Just wonderin'.
If there is any hope of small scale fusion, we will need more creativity than brute force. Eric J Lerner has had an approach that uses a plasmas conductivity and embraces its unpredictable nature.
In response to Aboleyn. Yes I agree we need to develop next generation fission reactors with the capability to burn nuclear waste and weapons grade fuel. This will help make the planet safer by reducing the presence of nuclear waste and weapons, and will help bridge the gap until fusion comes on line in a big way.
Hydrogen comes from the Big Bang, and may still be added to our universe near black hole event horizons.
The biggest problems we face with the creation of energy sources that are safe and cheap and non poluting are the same problems that have been around for 60 or more years, quite simply they are the destructive nature of man and the economic reliance on fossil fuels. I have witnessed a lawnmower running on water and my father inlaws car has a device that uses water as a fuel suppliment. The inlaw was a TV cameraman in the 60's and has the footage that shows a man (name unknown) first fill mower tank with fuel and then mow a strip of grass, he then tips out the fuel showing that there are no other tanks or anything attached to the mower and then fill fuel tank with water from a tap, flicks a lever on the strange carby then mows an acre of lawn. there was to be a follow up story but the man couldn't comment or disclose anything further as a petrol company had bought the rights to the design. As for his car it is a Ford F250 80s model with a 351, with the device he gets over 1000k's to a standard tank. The tech has been around for a long time but could you imagine the destruction to our planet if we had unlimited fuel? Until our species becomes truly aware and the ignorance of society is stamped out we will remain confined to the technologies we have, these reactors will work and are the solution as they will provide controlled economic stability with clean energy which is the only way we will advance. A sub note solar is good and I have made my own 70 to 80 watt panels for under $200, I am no scientist, I was a sparky but anyone with an IQ over 100 can do this, biggest cost is the inverter. A further thought, the polution created from making a prius or similar is equivelant to the inlaw driving his modded Ford every day for 2 lifetimes! Don't believe me, the stats are there if you look for them. Open your mind and the minds of others.
@blackjack861, @dadown: Dadown is mostly right. The only "nuclear waste" involved in nuclear fusion is when neutrons, which are released in the deuterium/tritium fusion reaction, fly out and slam into the material of the surrounding walls. So that material is gradually turned to radioactive isotopes. But the amount is MINISCULE compared to the huge amount of nuclear waste from fission operations - and, also, with fusion, those radioactive isotopes can be arranged to be short-lived, because by choosing what you line the walls with that the neutrons slam into, you can choose the isotopes that are produced. Note that even that's an issue with the "easiest" (ha) type of fusion we may manage. If we can master that first and then we can go on to master the higher temperatures that other fusion reactions need - no small task, mind you - deuterium/helium-3 fusion releases very few neutrons by comparison, and hydrogen-boron fusion shouldn't release any. But, mainly - the "waste" issue with deuterium/tritium fusion is microscopic and incredibly manageable compared to the fission nuclear power we're used to reacting to! (I should also mention another difference from fission power: a malfunctioning fusion power plant will just shut down from doing the incredibly reluctant thing it's designed to make happen. That's it. The behavior of a malfunctioning FISSION plant is potentially much more varied and disastrous.) In short, don't react to fusion power as you do to fission power. @stevenmcnutt: True, the sun works and should be used. True, other things work and should be used. But if you have fusion power, you have power when you need it, for the (very, very far) foreseeable future, way beyond any other concentrated source not limited to the solar budget. That's useful for big and remarkable projects. That's useful for convenience, or for things that other sources won't do for. And, if we have fusion power, we can have clean power that, again, isn't on a basic solar budget... a budget that human beings would inevitably fill, which - even if human beings handle the problems with maximal rationality, which is extremely unlikely - would even at best lead to a situation where energy-use grows tight, and where at best it realistically goes toward short-term needs with demand or with constituencies, and where infrastructure use, research/project use, or other long-term wise allocations without constituencies would get neglected... a trend with long-term results. If we can and do make it to fusion power, not only do remaining barriers to a total system of clean eco-sound energy disappear, but we will be generally safer in how the future will go, and in our range of options, compared to if we don't get fusion power to work.
@Gaius_Maximus: The alternate "thunderbolts" ideas that you point to about what makes the sun and other stars burn are very interesting. However, about the rather global judgment you make here in this context, there's good evidence that that hypothesis, even if true, may not be what's involved in this context, or it may not be all of what's involved. One example is that our experimental fusion arrangements have touched "breakeven", though not yet the getting-more-than-you-put-in "ignition", in fusion reactions; the plasmas are "burning" - which is to say that they are putting out more neutron flux and more energy than can be accounted for by just the radioactive tritium in the mix. A second, much larger, and much less ambiguous, example is that hydrogen bombs WORK, as predicted, with VASTLY more power than the fission bombs have if the tritium isn't added to them! "Giving the devil his due" is a rule that will help keep a contrarian view sounding reasonable, as opposed to the reverse. You need not think that the Prevailing View is right about stars, but you should concede (and should be quite willing to concede) that with regard to these particular phenomena they seem to be right about SOMETHING. :o)
@blackjack861, @dadown: Dadown is mostly right. The only "nuclear waste" involved in nuclear fusion is when neutrons, which are released in the deuterium/tritium fusion reaction, fly out and slam into the material of the surrounding walls. So that material is gradually turned to radioactive isotopes. But the amount is MINISCULE compared to the huge amount of nuclear waste from fission operations - and, also, with fusion, those radioactive isotopes can be arranged to be short-lived, because by choosing what you line the walls with that the neutrons slam into, you can choose the isotopes that are produced. Note that even that's an issue with the "easiest" (ha) type of fusion we may manage. If we can master that first and then we can go on to master the higher temperatures that other fusion reactions need - no small task, mind you - deuterium/helium-3 fusion releases very few neutrons by comparison, and hydrogen-boron fusion shouldn't release any. But, mainly - the "waste" issue with deuterium/tritium fusion is microscopic and incredibly manageable compared to the fission nuclear power we're used to reacting to! (I should also mention another difference from fission power: a malfunctioning fusion power plant will just shut down from doing the incredibly reluctant thing it's designed to make happen. That's it. The behavior of a malfunctioning FISSION plant is potentially much more varied and disastrous.) In short, don't react to fusion power as you do to fission power. @stevenmcnutt: True, the sun works and should be used. True, other things work and should be used. But if you have fusion power, you have power when you need it, for the (very, very far) foreseeable future, way beyond any other concentrated source not limited to the solar budget. That's useful for big and remarkable projects. That's useful for convenience, or for things that other sources won't do for. And, if we have fusion power, we can have clean power that, again, isn't on a basic solar budget... a budget that human beings would inevitably fill, which - even if human beings handle the problems with maximal rationality, which is extremely unlikely - would even at best lead to a situation where energy-use grows tight, and where at best it realistically goes toward short-term needs with demand or with constituencies, and where infrastructure use, research/project use, or other long-term wise allocations without constituencies would get neglected... a trend with long-term results. If we can and do make it to fusion power, not only do remaining barriers to a total system of clean eco-sound energy disappear, but we will be generally safer in how the future will go, and in our range of options, compared to if we don't get fusion power to work. @0David: The reaction they're looking at for fusion reactors (because it's the easiest fusion reaction) is the reaction of deuterium with tritium. You're right that tritium is radioactive... and it does have to be produced in a fission reactor. So some fission reactors would have to be going to supply the tritium for a general energy supply from fusion reactors (until and unless we can make higher temperatures work to sustain "better", harder fusion reactions that don't involve tritium) - but that would be MUCH fewer fission reactors, and accordingly much less fission waste, than if a lot of fission reactors were supplying that amount of power.
How sure are we that fusion will be clean? Anyone know what nuclear reactions are proposed for the new fusion reactors? H-boms use tritium (3H) which is radioactive. I think the Princeton tokamak was heavily contaminated with tritium and its removal was not a simple project.
@blackjack861: You are confusing fusion with fission. You don't get nuclear waste from fusion. While we need to keep trying to advance fusion, we should be spending most of our research $s on things we can use in the near future. For things to implement right now, solar and wind energy can be great suppliments for our energy needs.
Why we should give up on Nuclear fusion. NUCLEAR WASTE. Why because it takes thousands of years, before the mess stabilizes. In the mean time, the steel drums some of it is stored in, is rusting. Causing contamination of ground water. Also do you people remember Chernobyl in Russia. We humans are so STUPID.
Every five years they need another five years to make this work. It's as I've heard: if someone says that something will take five or more years, then it will probably never happen. One other point, last I checked the sun generates a tremendous amount of radiation, but maybe I'm missing something.
Dave, I think you need to brush up on your understanding of nuclear FUSION. You have mistaken it for "HHO". And yes you are correct with your description, how-ever it does not apply to this article. What is happening here is they are using a hydrogen based fuel (dont confuse this a burning fuel like gasoline), and they are using plasma rail-guns to create an implosive force on the fuel, which under the right conditions DOES create a very large amount of energy when the hydrogen atoms fuses with one another to create a helium based byproduct. It's kinda based on the design of the H-Bomb. Accept the H bomb used many atomic bombs to create that implosive force on the hydrogen based core.
I am not optimistic we will see practical, workable fusion within my lifetime. But I do believe we can benefit from fission-type nuclear power, if we could overcome our neurotic hangups about it. Let's face it: Everything has disadvantages. We could attempt to meet all our electric power needs from windmills, but who knows what tricks mother nature might play on us? Or, if we were to attempt to power our cars and trucks with ethanol obtained from plentiful cellulose, mother nature might play another of her tricks on us when alcohol abuse becomes even more epidemic than it now is. So we might as well learn to live with the inevitable risks involved with trying to maintain a semblance of the lifestyle we are accustomed to. I see no reason to believe nuclear power would be any more impossible to live with, than other options.
All these facilities base their efforts on our flawed and incomplete understanding of the atom AND the universe. Look up thunderbolts org for more on that. In the mean-time, simply apply a little logic: No one's ever been to the sun. We are only guessing at what drives it. And there are new minds and voices at NASA beginning to challenge old beliefs. It may yet turn out that Nikola Tesla was right all along.
"THEY" are the fictitious spooks in her mind, just as her fictitious mythological God of the Jews is.
Yes you can spend 1000 Watts converting water into Hydrogen and Oxygen, but to take that as feul and convert it back into heat will be less than 1000 Watts of heat, say 900 Watts. Turn that into physical torsion, and you get less, maybe 800 Watts. Trun that into magnetic fields to generate electricity, would be less again, maybe 700 Watts. I am not sure of the exact proportions of the losses mentioned above, but it takes more energy than you get back which is why it is NOT a viable power supply. Clean? The burning of Hydrogen is, but where does the energy come from initiall to make the Hydrogen?
Better than nuclear? For over 100 years, advanced concepts in energy generation have either been ignored or actively suppressed due to the power of fossil-fuel based economic and industrial interests. Imagine a world where every home and village has its own clean source of electrical energy, free from the cost of fossil fuels, nuclear power or a centralized electric grid. Imagine every means of transportation running off of clean power plants, using no source of fuel and creating no pollution. Imagine the developing world blossoming with these new technologies and the equatorial rain forests protected from slash and burn subsistence farming and logging. This is NOT fantasy - they have the technology now - so why have they kept it from us? http://just-me-in-t.blogspot.com/